The uniformed clerk at the lobby desk put down the intercom telephone. "You can go right up, Ms. Johnson. Mrs. Cauliff is expecting you."
Adam had asked her to pick up his briefcase and his navy jacket on the way to the meeting today. Being Adam, he had been apologetic about the request. "I left in a hell of a rush this morning and forgot them," he explained. "I left them on the bed in the guest room. The notes for the meeting are in my briefcase, and I'll need the jacket if I change my mind and decide to meet Nell at the Four Seasons." Winifred could sense from his tone that he and Nell must have had a serious misunderstanding, and hearing it only bolstered her certainty that their marriage was heading for the rocks.
As she rode up in the elevator, she thought about the meeting scheduled for later in the day. She was happy that the location for the meeting had been moved to the boat. She loved going out on the water. It seemed romantic, even when the purpose was strictly business.
There would be just five of them. In addition to herself, the three associates in the Vandermeer Tower venture -- Adam, Sam Krause and Peter Lang -- would be attending. The fifth was Jimmy Ryan, one of Sam's site foremen. Winifred wasn't sure why he'd been invited except that Jimmy had been pretty moody lately. Maybe they wanted to get to the heart of the problem and sort it out.
She knew they all would be concerned about the story that broke in today's newspapers, although she didn't feel any concern herself. In fact, she was rather impatient about the whole thing. The worst thing that ever happens in these situations, even if they get the goods on you, is you pay a fine, she told herself. You reach into your back pocket, and the problem goes away.
The elevator opened right onto the apartment foyer, where Nell was waiting for her.
Winifred saw the cordial smile of welcome on Nell's face fade as soon as she stepped forward. "Is something wrong?" she asked anxiously.
Dear God, Nell thought with sudden alarm, why is this happening? But as she looked at Winifred, she could almost hear the knowledge filtering through her being: Winifred's journey on this plane is completed.
Adam reached the boat fifteen minutes before the others were due to arrive. Entering the cabin, he saw that the caterer had been there and left a selection of cheeses and a plate of crackers on the sideboard. The liquor cabinet and the refrigerator would have been checked and stocked at the same time, so he didn't even bother to look.
He had found that the casual atmosphere of the boat, combined with the social tone drinks gave a meeting, served to loosen tongues -- those of his associates as well as of potential clients. On these occasions, Adam's favorite drink, vodka on the rocks, was often plain water instead, a fact he skillfully hid.
Throughout the day he had been tempted to phone Nell, but then finally had decided against it. He hated to quarrel with her almost as much as he had begun to hate the sight of her grandfather. Nell simply refused to acknowledge the fact that Mac wanted her to run for his former seat for only one reason: he intended to make her his puppet. All that pious mouthing about retiring at eighty rather than be the oldest member of the House was a lot of baloney. The truth was that the guy the Democrats were putting up against him at the time was strong and might have staged an upset. Mac didn't want to retire; he just didn't want to go out a loser.
Of course, he didn't want to go out, period. So now he'd get Nell, who was high profile, smart, very attractive, articulate and popular, to win the seat -- and the power -- back for him.
Frowning at the mental image of Cornelius MacDermott, Adam crossed to look at the boat's fuel gauge. As he'd expected, the tank was full. After he had taken the boat out last week, the service company had checked it over and refueled it.
Copyright © 2000 by Mary Higgins Clark
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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